- November 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH ANDREW BRYANT
Singer-songwriter Andrew Bryant was born and raised in Oxford, Mississippi, by a sawmill father and a piano-playing mother. His first performances were in a religious setting, and he was raised in a community where church was as regular as clockwork – every Wednesday night and twice on Sundays. By the end of high school, Andrew had added drums, bass and guitar to his musical repertoire and was experimenting in songwriting and cassette deck home recording. Then, he left the church behind and became fully-involved in the music scene.
In 2003, Andrew met Matt Arbogast (member of Chicago-based band The Gunshy and founder of record label Sleep Recordings), who assisted with the release of his first solo album, The Story Never Told (2004). Matt took Andrew on tour with him, and he spent the next five years living cheap, touring often and writing songs. He self-released more albums – The Magnolia State (2006), Bad Man Blues (2007), The Cowboy (2007), Galilee (2009) and Honeymoon/Blackbird (2011) – most of which are out of print or stored in boxes in his attic next to the Christmas decorations.
A little road-worn, Andrew took some time off from 2009-10, but in 2011, he got together with a touring buddy named Justin Kinkel-Schuster and formed the band Water Liars, whose debut album Phantom Limbs, was well-received by folks at NPR, Vice and Spin. Since then, the band has released two more records – Wyoming (2013) and Water Liars (2014) – and toured with the likes of Drive-By Truckers, Angel Olsen, Felice Brothers, Mountain Goats and more.
Though Andrew primarily tours, writes and records with Water Liars, he took some down time in-between gigs to work on solo material, which would later become songs for his sixth solo record – This is the Life. The record, which will be released on January 27, 2015, was recorded in Andrew’s home studio and features Matt Patton of Drive-By Truckers on bass guitar and Kell Kellum on steel guitar.
A Beer with the Band chatted with Andrew over some Revolution Anti-Hero IPAs in Schubas greenroom, where we got the lowdown on the new solo album and his upcoming show at Logan Square’s 8AM on December 8, 2015.
Drinks of Choice: Revolution Anti-Hero IPA
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: You’ve got a new solo project called, with a forthcoming record called This Is The Life. But you’re also part of the band Water Liars. Is this a separate endeavor?
Andrew Bryant: It is. It's a separate thing from Water Liars, definitely. I don't know if you know the history of the band or not, but I’d done several solo records before Justin [Kinkel-Schuster, lead vocals/guitar in Water Liars] and I first met. I performed under my own name. I'd been doing it for a while, and at about the time Water Liars started, I was at a spot where I'd done five records and I’d toured pretty hard and got burnt out. I was also feeling really insecure in what I’d done to that point because I never really sold many records. I wasn’t even sure I knew what I was doing anymore. Water Liars actually formed at the perfect time for me. It was the perfect opportunity for me to not have to think about writing songs for a while and express myself strictly through music … I could take a step back from being the sole creator of what I was doing. I almost felt like I had writer's block or something too.
Kristen: Was it because you were so burnt out?
Andrew: I think that was a lot of it. I would sit down and write songs after Water Liars started, but I didn’t really feel like they were any good, like I didn’t have anything to say. That's how I felt. For years, before this, it was effortless, writing songs. I had a fire in my belly. Then I got burnt out and I felt like I’d lost it. But Water Liars gave me a different a new hope, a new kind of fire.
Kristen: At what point into Water Liars did you feel like you were ready to create again?
Andrew: Just randomly at the end of last year--which was about the 2 year point into the band. We took the winter off and we had about a three-month layover. I had some time to myself and the songs just came. I was sitting around playing guitar on my porch and I realized that I had something to say again. I started writing and I wrote all the songs for the album in the course of a week or two.
Kristen: Do you think having that pressure taken off of you freed you up? Or do you think being out on the road again re-energized you?
Andrew: I think it was some of both. I definitely felt free at the end of that year, like I'd done a good hard years' worth of work. And there was no pressure for me to produce anything really. There was no pretension. I wasn't even thinking about making a record. I was just sitting down with my guitar on my porch.
Kristen: And it came really quickly for you.
Andrew: Yeah, that's how I've always written albums. It comes to me quickly. I'll start working on something, I'll get a concept in my head, and it’s like, “Okay, this is something I need to get out.” I've always described it as regurgitating. You put a bunch of stuff in you, like drinking a ton of beer – it’s gotta come out eventually. Plus, I regained my confidence playing in Water Liars over the last few years.
Kristen: Would you say that sentiment is reflected in the record?
Andrew: Absolutely. The entire record is about what it takes to make a living playing music. But I want to stress, I’m not trying to strike out on my own. I’m just trying to express myself and explore where I’m at in my life.
Kristen: Now when you say that the songs came quickly, how long or short was that time period of writing and then tracking?
Andrew: The writing and tracking process was – in total – about six months. When I wasn’t on the road with Water Liars, I’d work all day at home. There's one song on the album that I wrote over 10 years ago, but the rest were written during this time.
Kristen: Which one was that?
Andrew: “Friendly Cops.” Shit, it might have been more than 10 years. I was probably 22 when I wrote that tune, so it's probably at least 12 years old. Older that my oldest son. The first songs that came for the new album were “My Own Saving Grace,” “Keep It Together” and “Losing My Shit” … And those songs are really about what it takes to play music. Those songs just started coming out of me.
Kristen: How did the creative process work for the album?
Andrew: I’d wake up, take my kids to school, come home, make coffee, sit down on my porch with my guitar, come up with a chord progression and a melody, then it was only a matter of writing the verses and chorus and switching the words around after that. I guess it would take me about a half an hour to write the song and move all the words around. I have a studio in my house, so when I was done with that, I would go immediately upstairs and lay down the song. I’d spend all day recording all the parts. Drums, guitars, bass, vocals, etc. I'd just play the song through on every instrument. I liken making an album to an artist painting: you start with nothing and then you add color until it’s a thing.
Kristen: I was curious about that. It’s not strictly acoustic guitar on the record. I was wondering if you brought in outside musicians to create that full-band sound.
Andrew: Actually, what you hear on the album was meant to be demos. In my mind, I was just making demos of these new songs I’d written. But the sounds I was getting I ended up liking a lot. Once I started getting the pieces together and mixing them I thought, “This is coming together pretty well,” and I started realizing it was going to be an album. But at the end, I did ask my friend and neighbor Matt Patton (who plays for Drive By Truckers) to come play bass on it. And another new friend, Kell Kellum, took off work early one day and came by and played some steel guitar on a few songs. Other than that, I played everything.
Kristen: Did you plan on taking these to a studio?
Andrew: Yeah, at first I was like, “Man I want to go into the studio and make this sound really big, track it in the same studio where we’d cut the Water Liars’ records.” But I’m the type of dude who has always made my own albums in my house. And I had a little bit of encouragement to keep it that way too. I had a few dear friends reassure me, “This is your sound. This is what you do. Don’t fuck it up by hiring people to do it for you.”
Kristen: When will the record officially be released?
Andrew: Vinyl and Digital will be out January 27th. But I’m doing a tour in early December and plan to have some CD’s with me to sell on that tour.
Kristen: And will you continue touring with Water Liars, or do you have your own plans for a tour?
Andrew: The rest of this fall, until Thanksgiving, is devoted to Water Liars. I'm doing a solo tour in December, mostly in the South. But I’m coming up to Chicago and Indiana in the middle. I'm just bird-dogging it really: keeping the tours small, doing a small run of vinyl, and spreading the message word of mouth.
Kristen: Let’s visit the least rock-‘n’-roll question that I asked when I interviewed you with Water Liars. Now that it has been a year, what's the least rock and roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Andrew: I’m sorry, but I still don’t have an answer for that. But I will say, the most rock and roll thing I've done lately was last night. Water Liars were playing a Barnstormer show in Iowa and I drank a whole bottle of red wine before we went on. I actually killed the remainder of the bottle on stage. And then I murdered the set.
Kristen: What were some things you learned about yourself or your approach to music that you didn’t know before making this record?
Andrew: That I could still do it – write songs and make my own records – as long as I kept working at it. I’ve always had this fear that every song I write might be the last. I’ve always been scared I will lose it or something. I used to consider my musical ability to be magical. I never thought of what I did as work, but as something I was given from some power out there. But now I know that’s not at all what it is. I know now this is something that I’ve learned to do over many years, and that my abilities grow depending on the amount of work I put into it. And that's what I've learned: you have to treat your art like work, not magic. I used to treat it like magic, but now I treat it more like work. And I hope to keep working at it for a long time.